S/V Delilah

A Blog to track the wanderings of the S/V Delilah, a 37-foot Tayana sailboat.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Best for Last?

Friday, May 18
Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abacos
N 26 degrees, 32.404 minutes
W 076 degrees, 57.973 minutes

Okay, so we dragged our feet a little through the Exumas. With sub-tropical storm Andrea and other nasty weather on the U.S. coast causing, for us, day after day of light wind and calm seas, it just seemed like a good idea to get our fill of snorkeling and beachcombing in while we could. Mom and Dad's impending visit was weeks away.

Until it wasn't. On Saturday we still had plans to relax a little longer. Then we heard the weather forecast. Chris Parker, weather guru, was starting to sound grim. Well, we thought, we don't have far to go.
Except it was really about 130 miles from point a to point b. And there was a front coming through, and then maybe this low would form, so we grudgingly set off for Royal Island, skipping one last day of snorkeling but giving ourselves what we thought was a little bit of a time cushion to get to the Abacos for their arrival.

If Chris Parker worked Sundays, we might have heard the bad news earlier and foregone a peaceful night at anchor for a sleepless night of motoring in calm conditions. But he didn't forecast, and we missed the local marina's forecast over the VHF because we were reeling in a fish while under sail. We stopped at Royal, grilled our fish, and slept, blissfully unaware of the week ahead.

By Monday morning, it was still sunny and calm outside, but things were looking much, much grimmer for the foreseeable future. In five days my parents would arrive on an island 80 miles to the north, and here we were, safely anchored next to an uninhabited island (save for rabid, biting insects) with no means of communicating with the outside world. They wouldn't panic when we didn't show up, would they?

We listened to Chris's Monday morning broadcast, and he gave us a shred of hope that if we left RIGHT NOW and were especially lucky, we could make it to Great Abaco before dark (assuming we made 5 knots) and before things got really ugly. I mean, 20 knots of wind and 6-foot seas aren't really ugly, are they? The "trades" serve that up daily in the eastern Caribbean. We've had worse.

We got underway immediately, stowing our junk, washing dishes, and prepping sails as we motored north in light wind and flat seas.

The good news about wind and seas that build slowly is that you almost don't notice the point where they go from mild to...let's call it challenging. And then maybe uncomfortable. We ticked down the miles and the hours to go, reefing down to a double reefed main and the staysail, leaving the engine on full throttle to keep our speed up in sloppy chop and a possible countercurrent.

By the time we were a few miles away from the Abacos, the wind was cranking at maybe 30 knots (that's a guess--could have gone either way by 5 knots), and the chop was up to perhaps 6 feet. To get into the protected sound along the eastern coast of great Abaco we needed to find our way over a shallowish bar through a cut in a reef. On the charts it looked chancy. We were tired. We chose a more open and southerly anchorage, figuring the waves would go down in a day or two, and we could make those last 5 miles of open water into the hairy entrance at our leisure.

On Tuesday Chris Parker was all doom and gloom, so we waited until Wednesday. On Wednesday Chris had even more bad news, hinting about another possible low, and threatening that the miserable weather and heavy, frequent squalls in the Abacos would curse us through the weekend. THROUGH THE WEEKEND? We would miss my parents' entire visit because of 5 miles of Atlantic Ocean. Pathetic. But worse, we were in a fairly exposed anchorage if a low came through, and it was looking like a distinct possibility that we would be clobbered.

Counter to Chris's dire predictions, the wind died for a few hours on Wednesday. We waited, prepped the boat, tied everything down all over again, brought out the foul weather gear, and watched the waves pounding dramatically against and over the headland beside us. We convinced ourselves that the waves weren't so bad. Maybe they were going down. At noon we had a simple lunch. Then we bit the bullet.

At least the swell wasn't breaking along the exit to our anchorage. But it was big. From the helm I watched our bow point up, up, up at the sky, then down, straight down, at the trough between two waves. It was too late to worry about not having enough water under the keel in those troughs. Inside a minute we were in 10 feet, 12 feet, 15 feet, and then blissfully deeper water.

The waves were bigger than Monday's, but still manageable. I mean, we HAVE actually been sailing quite bit lately. We must have learned something about seamanship. Still, Dean noticed my white knuckles on the wheel, and he offered to take over. I occupied my time staring at every cloud and color change in the gray-on-gray sky. Did that contain 40 knots of wind? Would that one create steep, breaking seas?

Dean got us to the entrance. We watched the waves rolling and tumbling across the reef to starboard, and crashing 20 feet in the air against the rocky spit of land to port. It was near slack tide, so we didn't have current to worry about, and the entrance itself was almost a fifth of a mile wide. Plenty, right? On paper, certainly. On Wednesday, from my vantage point, it was distressingly narrow and certainly shallow. Waves coming up from deeper water ouside the channel were bulging higher and higher until some of them broke into angry foam. Gulp.

Our chart gave us waypoints to follow, and we lined ourselves up. We had the waves almost dead astern. Dean kept his hands on the wheel and his eyes on the compass, while I followed our course on the GPS, reading out our position. "Two feet left of course, five feet left of course, WHOAH thirty feet left of course." We'd been swept sideways by a wave. That was new. Good thing it wasn't a super big wave. Dean recovered quickly, and quickly learned how to angle the waves to keep us close to our course while our 12-ton boat surfed like a toy. We were in! And inside the reef it was eerily calm. Now all we had to do was motor another 15 miles in protected water wand avoid running aground in the shallow patches. Piece of cake!

Finally, we are here, anchored below the lovely and often-photographed Hope Town Lighthouse, fortifying ourselves for a day full of errands with extra strong Irish tea. Mom and Dad arrive in 8 hours, and the weather is perfect.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best Blog yet. Chris Parker - the man behind the curtain - you told us is never to be trifled with. Would that we could be there! Enjoy MaeMae & Puppa. Don't rush Fan Pier is: 40 degrees, wind NNE at 10, gusting to 30 and sloppy chop.

PMS Etienne

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must concur with PMS Etienne; best entry yet. Shades of Brendan O. in that writing style. Have a great time with M&D. Looks like th weather is clear there this am. We couldn't help but eye out-island cottage rentals with accomodation for 20 ft motor boat, while scoping out Abacos. Would love to get your opinion once home.


8:46 AM  

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